JACKSON, MI – Lean Rocket Lab began its journey in Jackson in 2018 with a goal of creating an entrepreneurial hub for manufacturers.
The hub at 133 W. Michigan Ave., was specifically focused on businesses developing technology products in central Michigan. But when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit, Lean Rocket Lab saw a huge need to help local entrepreneurs start up or expand their businesses.
“People in our community were coming to our front door saying ‘Hey, I’m trying to open up a restaurant or a bakery, or boutique or whatever,’ and so we just really wanted to respond to that,” Co-Founder Brandon Marken said.
Thus, the LOCAL program was born.
It started with a conversation between Lean Rocket Lab Co-Founders Marken and Ken Seneff and American 1 Credit Union to create a $5-million, five-year partnership fund to help businesses with capital funding.
Related: New $5M loan program will help small businesses in Jackson
Eleven applicants, ranging from bakeries to décor stores, were approved for the program in 2022 and entered into the yearlong training that included joining a six-week boot camp, being assigned a mentor and being tasked with individual milestones for their business, Marken said.
The individualized program taught entrepreneurs things they would need to know about running a successful business, said Christie Myers, Lean Rocket LOCAL director.
“For some of them, that was super basic, like making sure they get their LLC in place, that they get their finances in place or that they get to a place where they can take the next step,” Myers said.
The financial help was a big draw to businesses, as well. Every time a milestone was completed, a business was compensated up to $2,500, and it could also apply for a loan from the American 1 Credit Union fund, Myers said.
The program was intense, but well worth it, said sisters Mallory Vredeveld and Maddison Husted, co-owners of The Five Forks bakery, 1194 N. West Ave., which signed up to participate.
“They brought in experts in different aspects of things you should know (about owning a business),” Vredeveld said. “Like a (certified public accountant) came in to talk about taxes and finances.”
Neither of the sisters came from a business background, so the education they got led to the success they have now, they said.
“It was really beneficial for us to get some introduction into areas where we knew we would need to really beef up in our learning so that we could be successful long term,” Husted said.
This included learning how to apply for a loan, which the pair did from the $5-million fund. The money was used toward a portion of a down payment and some equipment for their bakery, which opened in February.
Related: What’s that in Jackson? A new bakery is on its way
“Lean Rocket Lab and American 1 are absolutely who we would primarily credit to helping us develop this as quickly as we did,” Vredeveld said. “In that year, we went from home bakers to opening our brick-and-mortar shop.”
Vito’s Espresso also found help from the program in moving into its current location at 7975 Spring Arbor Road in Spring Arbor.
Budgeting and not knowing how to apply for a loan were barriers for Vito’s Espresso, owners Vic and Linda Schiro, said. The Lean Rocket Lab program helped.
Through the program’s mentorship and the bootcamp, the couple not only learned how to budget effectively, but were also pushed on personal goals like getting their tax information up to date and making improvements to their building.
“It was well worth our time, and I think it’s well worth anyone’s time” Linda Shiro said. “There’s always stuff (business owners) can learn.”
The program’s $2,500 milestone reward also helps.
“You’re growing and you’re getting a biscuit for it,” Vic Shiro said.
Lean Rocket Lab is looking forward to continuing this program, Myers said. Applications are currently open for the second round of the LOCAL program and can be found at here.
All applicants are vetted and required to pitch in front of the LOCAL Advisory Committee, which will select the top 10 businesses as part of the 2023 LOCAL Program.
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